EEOC warns against English-only policies

Q&A with Kristin Simpsen

published in The Oklahoman | June 6, 2018

Just weeks before a patron of a New York City restaurant was captured on video ranting about how the eatery’s employees were interacting with some of its customers in Spanish when they should be speaking English, the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against grocery giant Albertsons for implementing a policy that prohibited Hispanic employees from speaking Spanish around non-Spanish speakers, even when speaking to Spanish-speaking customers and while on break. In a business Q&A with The Oklahoman, labor and employment attorney Kristin Simpsen talked about the EEOC’s stance on English-only language policies.

Simpsen explained that the EEOC has taken the position that English-only language policies have the potential to discriminate on the basis on national origin, thereby making it a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  While it strongly disfavors policies applied across-the-board to all types of workers within an organization, the agency does recognize that an English-only policy may be deemed a business necessity in some situations.

“If an employer chooses to implement such a policy, the employer still should permit employees to speak their native language where English isn’t required for legitimate business purposes, such as when the employee is on break,” she said. “Importantly, employers must give sufficient notice of a restrictive language policy by informing employees about the new language policy and the consequences for violating it. Finally, it’s important to remember that because the EEOC strongly disfavors English-only policies, the policy will be aggressively scrutinized if challenged.”